Neo-Ottomanism and Its Discontents: Turkish Foreign Policy toward Serbia

Jones, Tucker [Browse]
Senior thesis
130 pages


Beissinger, Mark [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
Under the AKP (Justice and Development Party), Turkey has developed and implemented a newly activist foreign policy. The new policy is based on a new conception of Turkish identity that is distinct from Kemalism, Pan-Turkism, and Islamism, the three other major schools of conception of Turkish identity. The new Turkish identity draws from Turkey’s Ottoman legacies, which it shares with the countries of the Balkans, Caucasus, and Middle East, i.e. the other countries that were once parts of the Ottoman Empire. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu outlines this “Neo-Ottoman” identity and its foreign policy consequences in his book Strategic Depth, where he argues that Turkey’s unique geography and history make it uniquely positioned to lead its neighborhood. Some of those whom Davutoğlu hopes to lead are skeptical. Reviews of scholarly and popular literature and interviews with academics, analysts, and politicians reveal that people in Serbia largely understand Turkey to be playing a double game in the Balkans, attempting to act both as mediator. Turkey’s political, economic, and cultural/soft power initiatives in the Balkans have had little lasting impact on Serbian-Turkish ties aside from minor increases in trade, investment, and tourism. Turkey’s Ottoman heritage does not seem to be an advantage in Serbia. In fact, it only makes Serbs fear the return of Ottoman-era Turkish domination. The AKP’s insistence on emphasizing the legacy of Ottoman rule in the Balkans risks not only Serbian-Turkish relations, but also relations between Serbia and the West if Serbs see the US and the EU as accomplices to Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman aspirations. Unfortunately for Western interests in the Balkans, Turkey seems not to be abandoning its Neo-Ottoman approach to foreign affairs anytime soon.

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